Education for Regeneration - A Nature-Based Approach


Education for Regeneration - A Nature-Based Approach

By: Luis Alberto Camargo

The regeneration imperative

As each year passes by, we have a chance to choose the direction towards which we as individuals and as society evolve. As a species, our “sapiens” difference is a critical component of this process. We as mammals have the capacity to think, reflect, learn, and intentionally exercise our will. We thus choose the actions and creations we bring forth into the world. Actions that are informed by the past (history of Earth, living systems, and humanity) build on our understanding of the present (science, technology and knowledge). Then we project towards an imagined and foreseen future (our dystopic utopias). 

Seeing the current state of the world, it seems we have acted with greed, short-sightedness, and lack of collective foresight. Our planet´s vital signs are screaming for us to listen. Six of the nine planetary boundaries have been surpassed partially or totally into an alarming and critical state represented in loss of our biosphere integrity, nutrient cycle disruptions (Biochemical flows), chemical pollution (novel entities), land use change, climate change, and fresh water.i   

(J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015.)

We are at an inflection point where we had never been before. The science is clear and unequivocal! We must act now! 

Climate inaction has been our most damaging action. Understanding the interconnected and interdependent nature of the Earth system allows us to see what is critical. It is not only climate change but how all these planetary boundaries interact and affect each other. Additionally, many of the causes of climate change (primary and secondary) are also related to the threats affecting other critical issues. 

Frightening and apocalyptic as it sounds, there is hope! Living systems have shown us their capacity to heal and regenerate, the way to move out of this situation and the potential for a thriving planet. We need to act as living systems do and align to what life has done for billions of years of evolution. As Janine Benyus describes: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” 

Therefore education must become one of the key actors to activate and accelerate culture change towards regeneration. Nature will undoubtedly be our most powerful ally, the canvas (learning environment) and guide (teacher and knowledge).

Universal Wellbeing, Education and Culture Change - Relational learning
As we move forward, the direction in which we move is more than the path. If we were outside, we would guide ourselves using our compass, looking for our “north.” Where then could our “north” be? Being part of the nature education revolution for over 30 years has led me to think and feel that this direction is aligned with what I now call “universal wellbeing.” We should be striving to be in the “right relation” with ourselves, with others, and with nature.

I believe nature plays a critical role in connecting us back to our interconnected and interdependent essences. Nature has become the relation from which modern humanity is most disconnected.

Learning to reconnect at all levels undoubtedly will require learning to reconnect with nature. As this happens empathic capacities become enhanced and individuals become more sensible and aware of their relation to others and to themselves. I believe this is the place where nature-based education has the potential to become a game-changer. Education’s role in forming and evolving culture is sometimes taken lightly. By aligning education to our “north” and intentionally working to heal relations in all three levels (self, community, nature), education has the potential to inspire new and regenerative cultures.

Integrating deep nature-based experiences into the heart of learning allows incorporating practices aligned with the universal wellbeing principle to help learners embody a new way of relating, of being. In the words of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh: “realizing our ‘inter-being’.”

Enabling Conditions for Learning for Regeneration
I have wondered if the rupture of the human-nature connection is only associated with our view of the world, and how this connection/disconnection is established. Aldo Leopold in Sand County Almanac and more recently Wesley the importance of “inclusion with nature and sustainability.” He concluded with a question that resonates with me immensely: “How do we promote a psychological inclusion with nature?” ii iii

 As a father and nature educator, I carry these questions with me every day. My daughters, my most personal scenario for exploring learning and the human-nature connection, my work with over 120,000 students in wilderness education programs at OpEPA, have led me to believe human-nature connections can actively be developed, and there are different enabling conditions that will affect the strength and quality of connectedness.

As we co-evolve different approaches, this process is what I call “education for regeneration or regenerative education.”

 “Regenerative Education develops our capacity for identifying interdependence from a living systems approach. Developing the capacity for inter-being, for being nature. This includes the capacities to perceive, recognize and interpret the invisible (energy flows, relations in living systems human-human, human-nature, nature-nature). From this can emerge a coherence whereby these capacities align to thought, word, and action (being) in service to life.”iv

Regeneration can be thought of in two ways, shallow and deep regeneration. Similarly to ecology, shallow regeneration focuses on practices and processes that incorporate a regenerative approach. Deep regeneration goes beyond the practical application into the essential ways of being. In order to truly move to create regenerative cultures it is essential to incorporate both levels into human learning and development.

Currently, most regenerative education programs focus on shallow regeneration and the transition from degenerative practices into practices aligned with living system principles. Unfortunately, most of these programs are at the higher education levels. Considering the way humans develop, I am convinced that deep regenerative ways of being, start being developed even before the first day of our lives.

This is part 1 of a series. To read part 2, visit Education for Regeneration—Why EE Is Natural for Personal Growth and Understanding: Part 2.

Luis Alberto Camargo Is the Founder and Director OpEPA, Social Entrepreneur, IUCN CEC Vice Chair, WEF Young Global Leader, Ashoka Fellow,  and Salzburg Fellow.
Photo Credit: Joe Baust – Cloud Forest outside Bogota Colombia.

iRockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, 472–475 (2009).

iiLeopold, A. (1949). A sand county almanac and sketches here and there. New York: Oxford University Press.

iiiSchultz, P.W. (2002). Inclusion with Nature: The Psychology Of Human-Nature Relations. In: Schmuck, P., Schultz, W.P. (eds) Psychology of Sustainable Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

ivSmitsman, A., Baue, B., & Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9: Educational Transformation -7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability [Ebook] (p. 52). r3.0. Retrieved 5 February 2022, from